Not often do you come within a game of the NBA Finals, add depth to your team, and have just about everyone write you off.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet the 2012-13 Boston Celtics.
Seriously. What more could the Celtics have done this offseason? They re-signed Kevin Garnett. They didn’t trade Paul Pierce. They enhanced Rajon Rondo’s happiness by letting Ray Allen walk (forget for a moment that he ended up with the hated Miami Heat).
So the Celtics took care of their own – and their own has been pretty doggone efficient all by themselves. After that, they replaced Allen (and then some) by adding guards Jason Terry and Courtney Lee via free agency, and big men Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo via the draft.
Also, forward Jeff Green returns from a heart issue, and guard Avery Bradley returns from a couple of bum shoulders.
The only question that remains is why so many folks seem to think the Celtics are toast.
Oh, it’s true that Garnett is 36, with the basketball mileage of a 67-year-old. It’s true that Pierce just turned 35. And we all know there’s no telling what might become of Sullinger, who lasted to the No. 20 overall pick, and maybe for good reason. But maybe not.
The bottom line is this band of Celtics is talented, experienced and has more in reserve than last season. To those voices of popular opinion, that seems to mean little.
To those who prefer reality, it had better count for something. Otherwise, if everything clicks, the Celtics are likely to send out a reminder that, hey, they still got some winning to do.
Last season: 39-27, lost to Miami in Eastern Conference finals.
Coach: Doc Rivers (546-433, 14th year)
Top returnees: PF Kevin Garnett, SF Paul Pierce, PG Rajon Rondo.
Key additions: G Jason Terry, SG Courtney Lee, PF Jared Sullinger-r, C-Fab Melo-r.
X-Factor: Avery Bradley. Prior to getting injured, Bradley was slowly taking over Allen’s starting role. It wasn’t because Bradley offered anything close to the veteran’s cleverness or outside shooting. Rather, Bradley supplied fresh legs, defense and a game that seemed at least as complementary to Rondo. Now, we get to find out if that type of well-roundedness and camaraderie is sustainable. If so, Bradley will help Celtics fans forget all about Allen, and quickly.
Strengths: No one in the conference can match the intensity of Garnett. The man is just “on” at all times – training camp, preseason, playoffs, you name it. Even when he’s less-than-healthy (which seems to be the case quite often these days), Garnett’s passion usually becomes a teamwide epidemic. Meanwhile, Rondo can’t shoot, but he does so many of the other things so well, you either forgive or just forget. If he can carry over his playoff performance, he’ll be in NBA MVP discussions. Along with those two, the Celtics added youth, experience and another prime-time championship performer in Terry. Weaknesses: Two of the three biggest reasons for hope are old enough to date your grandma. Not really, but Garnett and Pierce do have a tendency to, if not break down entirely, show signs of wear and tear. Those backing up KG and Pierce, meanwhile, are still unknown commodities. Sullinger and Melo haven’t played a real NBA game. Green’s situation is scary and there’s no telling how he might recover, or function. And Allen’s three-point guarantees are long gone.
Outlook: With good health and quick contributions from the youngsters, the Celtics should continue their run of Atlantic Division titles. But imagine if their fortune is even better. Imagine if Garnett and Pierce give them another good year, Sullinger exceeds expectations, Terry turns out to be a natural fit, and so on and so on. If so, you’d better be prepared. All these guts may still result in greatness. Prediction: 53-29.